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‘I just love helping people’

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Experienced volunteer: Myra Bristol loves to volunteer wherever she can (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Charities are always asking Myra Bristol for help. Sometimes they’re in need of a board member; other times they’re looking for assistance on tag days.

“Yes” is her usual answer — as long as it doesn’t conflict with any of the other charities she volunteers with.

“I just love helping people,” the 85-year-old said. “My second husband used to say, ‘You don’t know the word “no” do you?’ I said, ‘Yeah I do. It means keep on going’.”

Age Concern, Pride Bermuda, Mirrors, Lefroy House Care Community, seniors clubs, you name it and she’s helped them out in some way.

She wasn’t always so charitable.

She’d whine when her mother, Esther Jane Robinson, asked her and her sister to take groceries to needy neighbours in Mangrove Bay, Sandys.

“We’d say, ‘Mama do we have to?’,” Mrs Bristol said. “She’d say, ‘There are poor children who don’t have anything to eat.’ The father would either drink or not come home with his money.”

Despite her early resistance, something stuck with her.

She started volunteering when her sons, Dan and Glenn Chase, joined the Salvation Army Cub Scouts.

Parents were expected to help with fundraising to send the scouts to camps abroad. Mrs Bristol threw herself into the task.

In 1987 when her sons and her daughters, Joanne Gibson and Laverne Chase, joined Pride Bermuda she started helping out there also.

Then in 1999, Age Concern heard about her efforts and asked her to help them, too.

The seniors charity was then newly established and inexperienced.

Mrs Bristol was astonished when, with two weeks to go, members talked about calling off their first tag day, because they hadn’t prepared.

Incredulous she said: “You can’t organise a tag day in two weeks? Leave it to us.”

She and her niece, Joyce Eve, were soon on it, calling volunteers and putting things into place, ultimately raising thousands of dollars.

In the 20 years since, she’s only missed one meeting.

“Everyone wanted to know where I was,” she said.

She got involved with Lefroy House in 1994, when her 90-year-old mother became a resident.

“I have gotten very attached to some of the people there,” she said. “There are two people I really got attached to and when they got sick and couldn’t talk any more, it really went through me. They were on their way out. You see a well person and then when you see them go downhill. If you are human, it affects you.”

She had to limit her time spent at the Sandys rest home once she got involved with another charity, the 50-Plus Social Club.

“Now I don’t go every week,” she said. “I go now and then.”

Through her volunteer work she’s noticed a lot of seniors are struggling to pay bills, sometimes having to decide between medicine and food.

“Age Concern does try to help out in that way,” she said. “There are different businesses that gives us discounts.

“You can join Age Concern if you are gone 50, and after 80 you become a life member.”

As a youngster she attended West End Primary, but chose not to go to high school.

Other people teased her that her parents couldn’t afford to send her.

She shrugged them off and started babysitting at 15.

“I probably babysat for ten or 12 children over the years,” she said. “I always loved children.”

She thinks she got her outgoing nature from her father, Clifton Robinson, who drove taxis and worked in hospitality.

When she turned 19, he had her serving appetisers at cocktail parties while he worked the bar.

In 1953, she married but left her husband after several years; she liked to go out and he liked to stay at home.

“Not that he ever tried to stop me,” she said. “But I wanted someone who would go out with me.”

She did not expect to remarry but then met Eldon “Doc” Bristol, a cricket umpire.

He lived near her in Sandys and they used to see each other at matches. One day he offered her a ride home.

“I hopped into his car and it went from there,” she said. “I thought he was glamorous.”

When they married in 1981, people teased her because he was 14 years older than her and predicted the union wouldn’t last longer than six months.

However, theirs was a happy marriage that only ended when Mr Bristol died in 1999.

“The late 1990s were a particularly sad time for me,” she said, explaining that her mother had died three years earlier.

She decided to do some travelling, something she’d never done before.

“My sister was supposed to come with me, but she backed out,” Mrs Bristol said. “So I went to Boston by myself.”

At the airport, a lady about her age approached her saying she looked like she needed a friend.

The two hit it off and “did quite a few tours together” and remain in contact even today.

Friends sometimes marvel at all the things she’s involved with.

“I like to help people and stay busy,” she said with a shrug. “It feels good to know you helped someone to get along, or put a smile on their face.”

She sets aside Wednesdays for herself.

“If I am home, I always have something to do,” she said. “When the place is all clean, then I have puzzle books to keep my mind going. I am beginning to read more.”

She is a member of the Salvation Army and has received a number of awards for her work with them.

Her work with Age Concern was recognised at the Centre on Philanthropy’s Volunteer Recognition reception last month.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

Helping hand: Myra Bristol is shown in this family photograph. She learned from her mother the value in charity (Photograph supplied)